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Grant County passes proclamation declaring 2024 “The Year of the Gila Wilderness” with unanimous support

February 8, 2024
Leia Barnett, WildEarth Guardians Greater Gila New Mexico Advocate,  lbarnett@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands  
#GreaterGila, #PressStatement
SILVER CITY, N.M. — Conservation groups, community members, Tribal nations and the U.S. Forest Service gathered today to witness Grant County Commissioners unanimously approve a proclamation declaring 2024 “The Year of the Gila Wilderness”. This year marks 100 years since the Gila Wilderness was designated, and events and celebrations are planned throughout the year to honor the Gila Centennial.

“We are deeply inspired to see so many folks speaking out and standing up to ensure this incredible landscape is adequately celebrated and protected for the next 100 years,” said WildEarth Guardians Greater Gila Advocate Leia Barnett. “With Alicia Edwards and the Grant County Commission leading the way in those efforts, the Gila Wilderness will get the recognition it deserves.”

The Grant County proclamation celebrates the ecological and cultural importance of the Gila, and its significance as a living cultural landscape, a celebrated hunting ground, a wildlife sanctuary, a place of refuge for wild nature, and an important part of both Tribal and non-Tribal community values for New Mexicans all across the state. 

The Chiricahua Apache Nation, representatives of the original people of Nde benah (a/k/a the Gila region), appreciate Grant County’s recognition that this land, the air above it, the water running through it, and the plants, animals, and spirits who depend upon it, were gifted to the Chiricahua Apache People by the Creator at the beginning of time to safeguard and steward,” said Chiricahua Apache Nation Attorney General William Bradford. “We look forward to working with the Grant County Commission and all others who wish to join us in restoring this country to peace and harmony.” 

Administratively designated in 1924, and championed by conservationist and ecologist Aldo Leopold, the Gila Wilderness is the world’s first Wilderness area. Beyond the official Wilderness boundary, the Gila Wilderness is surrounded by a multi-million acre landscape that stretches from the White Mountains in Arizona to the Black Range in New Mexico. This area, known as the Greater Gila, is remarkably biodiverse, supporting a wide array of wildlife and plants from high alpine species to residents of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts. A landscape beyond measure, the Greater Gila encompasses three wilderness areas, over one million acres of unprotected roadless acres, several mountain ranges, numerous species found nowhere else in the world, and one of the West’s last free-flowing rivers. The Gila Wilderness is the central gem of this wild landscape. 

“We’re excited to be celebrating the centennial of Aldo Leopold’s bold idea to protect 500,000 acres of the Greater Gila Bioregion through the world’s first Wilderness area,” said Gila Resources Information Project Executive Director Allyson Siwik. “For 100 years, the Gila Wilderness has protected the headwaters of the Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, preserving the rich biological diversity of this ecologically significant southwestern landscape. We are grateful to Aldo Leopold for his vision and to all of the individuals since 1924 who have worked to ensure that the Gila Wilderness remains untrammeled and undeveloped by humans for future generations.”

“The Gila Wilderness inspires awe, allowing humans to reconnect with who we really are,” said Carol Ann Fugagli, Executive Director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance. “It is an essential haven for wildness where natural processes are left to evolve undisturbed. These values are at the core of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, and we honor the dedication of those whose past work allows us to reap the benefits of this special place. Though, with numerous serious climate and biological pressures, we must remain vigilant so future generations will have the chance to experience this precious and rare solitude.”

I am proud to have served on the Gila National Forest where the concept of wilderness was born,” said Gila Wilderness District Ranger Henry Provencio. “Thanks to the rugged beauty and diversity of species within the Mogollon’s, the Jerkey’s, the Diablos, and Skeleton Ridge, as well as the foresight of the great conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Gila Wilderness was designated in 1924. Now there are nearly 112,000,000 acres of wilderness in the US, and 48 countries worldwide recognize some form of wilderness. It all started right here and is worthy of celebration and pride for our local communities.”   

“The Gila Wilderness is special amongst US public lands. Its large, undeveloped landscape encompasses free flowing rivers, rocky canyons, high mountains, and diverse forests in their natural condition. The vast landscape provides clean air and clean water, protects native ecosystems and wildlife habitats, and creates fantastic opportunity for solitude and unconfined recreation,” said Gila National Forest Supervisor Camille Howes. “We celebrate Aldo Leopold’s foresight to advocate for large swathes of public land to be set aside, where man is only a visitor and natural systems are allowed to persist and flourish as they have for millennia.”

“The rich cultural heritage, wild and scenic beauty, and spiritual significance of the Greater Gila Ecosystem require all of us who love its richness and diversity, and its free flowing water, to stand together to ensure that the Gila may continue to provide inspiration and nurture us for generations to come,” said CDTC Executive Director Teresa Martinez. “Recognizing the 100th Anniversary of the designation of the Gila Wilderness allows us an opportunity to reconcile the past and understand our collective role to help reimagine its protection so we insure its future.CDTC is privileged to be a part of the larger community of organizations, individuals, Agencies and Tribal Nations, who have to come together to ensure that the Gila and its surrounding lands and waters remain a beacon for not just the next 100 years- but for a never ending future for all people who love this place so we may continue to draw inspiration from this incredibly special place.

The Centennial Proclamation is just the beginning of celebrations for the Gila Wilderness. Click here to see a full schedule of events. 


Other Contact
Carol Ann Fugagli, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, (575) 956-3301, director@ugwa.org , Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project, (575) 590-7619, allysonsiwik@gmail.com , Alicia Edwards, Grant County Commissioner, (575) 654-4364 aedwards@grantcountynm.gov , Maribeth Pecotte, Gila National Forest, (575) 388-8211, Maribeth.Pecotte@usda.gov , Teresa Martinez, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, (540) 449-4506, tmartinez@continentaldividetrail.org , Joe Saenz, Chiricahua Apache Nation, (575) 534-1379 apache@wolfhorseoutfitters.com, William Bradford, Chiricahua Apache Nation, (703) 517-5719, chiricahuaprofessor@hotmail.com